A federal judge has ruled that Warner / Chappel does not have a valid copyright to “Happy birthday to you.”
In a 43-page ruling, Judge George H. King, the chief U.S. district judge for the Central District of California, ruled that the song—arguably the most famous in the English language—is now in the public domain. Here’s the order:
Because Summy Co. never acquired the rights to the Happy Birthday lyrics, Defendants, as Summy Co.’s purported successors-in-interest, do not own a valid copyright in the Happy Birthday lyrics.
Warner/Chappell earns about $2 million a year from the song. The ruling means commercial users of the song will no longer have to pay for it.
The BBC has the background to the story—and the song:
The music to Happy Birthday To You was written in the late 19th Century by two sisters who called their version Good Morning To All. That song later evolved into the version popular today and was copyrighted by the sisters' publisher. The publisher and the rights to the song were eventually purchased by Warner/Chappell for $25m (£16m) in the 1980s. …
A group of artists who challenged Warner / Chappell’s ownership said over the summer that they had proof that the song belonged in the public domain. They said a songbook from 1922 includes the song, predating its 1935 copyright.
On Tuesday, the judge agreed.